Turning a Student into a Teacher 101

What consumed the first couple decades of your life? What occupied most of your time? What was your biggest responsibility? Most likely the answer to all of these is school. As a college student, my peers and I have spent most of our lives learning how to do the whole “school” thing. We’ve mastered how to sit in a classroom, how to take tests, how to cram, how to finish homework, and how to study. I’d say that most of us, especially those of us who are continuing or have continued our educations with college, have mastered being a student. But how do you get to the other side? Sitting in a desk for eighteen years doesn’t prepare you to be teaching on the other side of that desk. So what does?

School shapes and molds us for years. Not only do we learn history, English, science, and math, but we learn life lessons in responsibly and how to learn. Our teachers held our hand through this process in elementary school and loosely guided us through high school, but were always aiding our learning process. They are there not only to help us master a subject, but to grow as students and as human beings. Behind our parents, teachers are the most influential people in our early lives. For this reason, I believe that teachers (no matter what their pay) serve in one of the most impactful careers in our society.

Obviously, you go to college, major in education, become certified, and just kind of… start teaching. That’s what I thought. Upon arriving at UNC in the fall, however, my opinion was challenged, and ever since I’ve been pondering this question of what makes a teacher. UNC is moving their education program to be a five-year MAT program. Undergraduates can no longer major in education but must choose another major and apply to be a part of the masters program in their fifth year. UNC faculty members are excited about this program and ready to keep up with the demands for more prepared teachers. Other schools are making changes as well. This change is seen as advancement in teacher education and other schools such as Duke, have similar programs.

UNC’s Bill McDiarmid, dean of the school of education explains it this way: “A combined bachelor’s/master’s model will allow us to provide deeper content preparation, more rigorous instruction in teaching and more extensive classroom practice for teacher candidates.”

My question now is how does this rigorous instruction and extensive practice all fit in to twelve or fourteen months. If you want to teach high school, the choice is simple – major in the field you will teach. Those who want to go into elementary education, special education, child development, or educational policy, however, are left with a harder decision. When teaching younger children, the teacher is shaping student’s minds, showing them how to learn, and giving them an educational foundation. Knowing how to teach is key. When one is teaching at an older age, subject matter clearly takes priority, but a teacher who knows their information but not how to teach still won’t be effective. Is one year enough time to learn how to be a teacher? Is one year during master’s courses enough time to student teach? In my last post, I explained my belief in college education serving to prepare the student for his or her career. What major will prepare so many aspiring teachers to do what they love? Student teaching, education courses, mastery of subject matter, child development, science of learning, and other areas of study can all play a part in preparing a teacher, but what exactly is the right path to shape a successful teacher? Clearly, even universities are still figuring that out.

So how DO you turn a student into a teacher? I don’t know exactly… but as an aspiring teacher, I’m on a journey to find the answer to that question.

“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” Albert Einstein



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2 Responses to Turning a Student into a Teacher 101

  1. leighahall says:

    My personal opinion is no – a one year MAT model cannot do enough to have a well launched beginning professional. To be fair, I haven’t been involved with the MAT in any way. But I also don’t think most Bachelor’s degrees (with a two year emphasis in your major). The most effective model I have seen is the five year model where you get a four year degree – with the last two really focusing on learning how to be a teacher – and then in your 5th year you do a year long internship coupled with taking additional classes.


  2. devin17h says:

    This is a really interesting topic. It would be very helpful to hear what programs local principals and superintendents prefer and why. I wonder how much collaboration takes place between universities and local schools when decisions like these are made.
    It also makes me wonder when learning to be an exceptional teacher stops, and why teacher training is not a continuous practice. I feel like it would be very helpful to teachers to have the option to continuously pursue coursework to improve within their areas of difficulty as issues arise and as information becomes more available. Methods such as co-teaching and mentorship of younger teachers could create effective opportunities for collaborative, continuous learning.


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